By JOHN BOSCHINI
A battle for second place takes center stage in the NASL this weekend as teams try to keep pace with the runaway Carolina Railhawks.
Carolina returns home to take on a Tampa Bay team that has had trouble finding the back of the net this season, scoring only 11 goals. This could be an opportunity for Carolina keeper Brad Knighton to get his fifth shutout of the season.
FC Edmonton travels to NSC Minnesota on Saturday for the teams' second meeting of the season. Edmonton got the better of Minnesota in May but has had mixed fortunes since then, winning two and losing two, including a 3-0 drubbing of Puerto Rico in midweek action.
The early-season dominance of the Puerto Rico is a thing of distant memory and, as strange as it may sound, the Islanders face a stiff test against bottom-dwelling Atlanta. The Silverbacks got their first win of the season last week and narrowly lost to Fort Lauderdale in their next game. Puerto Rico has conceded seven goals in four games and is falling rapidly, now down to fifth in the standings.
Here is a look ahead at the weekend action in the NASL.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Montreal Impact (Saturday, 2:30 p.m.)
Fort Lauderdale is one of three teams with 15 goals scored and 13 conceded, while Montreal has managed only 11 goals all season. If Montreal is to keep out of eighth place an offensive star needs to emerge. No Impact player has managed more than two goals yet this season.
Fort Lauderdale has kept only three clean sheets this season, including two scoreless draws. The Strikers have also struggled away from home, winning only once this season.
FC Tampa Bay at Carolina Railhawks (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
The dominance of the Railhawks is evident, as Carolina looks to extend its winning to streak to eight games. Carolina has racked up a +14 goal differential, scoring an impressive 23 goals. Striker Etienne Barbara continues to be Carolina's primary scoring threat.
If FC Tampa Bay is going to stop the Railhawks' offense, rookie goalkeeper Jeff Attinella will have to continue his good form. Attinella leads the league with 50 saves.
FC Edmonton at NSC Minnesota Stars (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Carolina will be rooting for a tie between its two closest rivals. Both teams are fighting inconsistency after enjoying hot streaks earlier in the spring. Edmonton's offense is led by 21-year-old Kyle Porter, and the young Canadian could push Edmonton over the line.
Minnesota has played a game more than Edmonton and Carolina and a win would move the Stars solidly into second place.
Atlanta Silverbacks at Puerto Rico Islanders (Sunday, 6:05 p.m.)
A 3-0 defeat to Edmonton was simply the latest in a series of missteps in Puerto Rico's season following a three-week break in April and May. The Islanders have scored five goals in six games and need some sort of offensive spark to make a case as legitimate challengers.
Atlanta has only one win in 11 games, but there are signs that the Silverbacks are maturing and it's no longer safe to assume a win against them. The Silverbacks have scored four goals in two games, up from three in their entire 2011 season leading up to June. Don't expect Alanta to go on a hot streak, but Puerto Rico should be careful.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Can Carolina have its streak snapped? Who will win between Edmonton and Minnesota? Expect Atlanta to pull the upset?
Share your thoughts below.